SAMOHI ¬óThere were bake sales, button sales and even Viking horn beanie sales.

But they couldn’t make up the $90,000 deficit that the Santa Monica High School band program amassed over the last three years.

The Santa Monica Arts Parents Association, which manages the finances of all three band programs at the high school, announced last week that the Viking Marching Band could possibly end its 97-year run if they did not garner enough funds before the onset of the season.

To start, the program needs to raise $25,000 before Aug. 6 to pay for band camp and other costs associated with the start of the season, like instructor fees and the rights to their field show, said Alisa Stewart, co-president of the parents association.

If a minimum of $29,000 is not in the bank account by that time, band camp will not open and the students will not march at the first home football game, she said.

In addition to performing at home football games, the Samohi Marching Band also competes in field shows, recently placing third in the 2011 Southern California field championships.

Currently, the account holds almost $28,000, though this amount does not reflect unpaid bills for uniform dry cleaning and the districtwide Equity Fund, which collects money from all student-instruction organizations and redistributes payments according to need. This year, the band contributed nearly $7,000. For the upcoming year, the band is being asked to contribute about $4,000.

Though Samohi receives a large chunk of the redistributed funds ¬ólast year, the school collected nearly $90,000 ¬óthe band does not reap the benefit, as the stated intention of the fund is to reduce achievement gaps in math and science, said Robb Brown, co-president of the parents association.

Add to that the increasing cost of sheet music, instruments, the greater number of students interested in band and fewer donations, and the band’s financial situation becomes more dire. Though the band raised $130,000 in fundraising this year, it’s not enough.

“It’s important for people to understand that the costs don’t change, and in some cases, go up,” Brown said. “The band program has a situation in which people have less discretionary spending and less money to dedicate to things, and are having to make difficult choices.”

Though the marching band is in the most critical financial straits, the concert band also faces an $11,000 deficit, while the jazz band expects to break even before July, Stewart said.

A few years ago, this kind of financial situation was unthinkable. In 2009 and 2010, the Samohi band program received a combined $169,620 from the “rainy day fund,” a sum of money that was left after the disbanding of a previous Santa Monica band parents association. Over the years, the fund was used as a supplemental source of money to pay debts and correct any overspending, Stewart said. The association continued to approve expenses because of the availability of funds, but didn’t pay close enough attention to replace what they had taken, she said.

“In our defense, that money was intended to contribute towards the musical education of Samohi students, and that’s exactly how it was used,” Stewart said, in an e-mail.

Some parents raised concerns about how rainy day funds were spent in the past, and how these decisions may have affected the band’s current situation. With controversy surrounding the former band parents association’s transparency and the huge amount of assets they held, it was surprising to see the current band’s call for help, said Michael Chwe, a band parent.

However, he said he appreciated the new association’s transparency and willingness to explain finances.

To make up the deficit and keep the band afloat, the parents association voted on May 21 to approve three measures. The first was to ask the district for an exemption from the Equity Fund, along with a refund of the money paid into the fund this past year. The parents association brought this request to Thursday’s Board of Education meeting, though administrators could not comment on the measure because it was not an agenda item. The association will await the district’s decision, Stewart said.

Though the district provided support in the past, it no longer does so, said Jan Maez, assistant superintendent and chief financial officer of the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District. She added that she was unsure if an exemption would be the direction the district would want to take, and that the district was considering changing the Equity Fund, which could occur in the next one to two years.

“Their dilemma is not unlike the dilemma the district is facing,” she said. “It’s a problem we all have with how services to students are being funded all across the state.”

The parents association also passed a motion to stop paying the cost of transportation for students to play at home football games and up the fair share donation expected of all band families from $450 to $600.

In spite of the added expense, some parents, like Birgit Roberts, are willing to pay the price.

“The bottom line is that we have no money, and we all want to make this work and move forward,” she said. “It would be such a shame if (the band) went away — it’s such a jewel in Samohi’s crown.”

Alternative options for funding include grants or foundations, though some parents have already committed to donating extra sums, Roberts said. A direct donation campaign is also in progress through a form on the band’s website, Stewart said.

In the meantime, Stewart said she hopes to find 20 parents who are committed to paying the new fair share donation before Aug. 6, resulting in a sum of $12,000. Already, she said she believes parents will contribute $10,000 of donation money before band camp. This would put them on track to open the camp in the summer, prompting the release of the registration forms.

Though it’s not everything, it puts them closer to the goal — Stewart thinks they can do it.

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